Sometimes the cutting edge cuts a little too sharply – so sharply, in fact, that innovation and the processes surrounding it seem downright incomprehensible. Think of Lady Gaga’s meat dress, or better still, the swan dress Icelandic singer Bjork wore to the 2001 Oscars. Ten years later, the world is still largely unprepared for Bjork’s onslaught of creativity. Where, one wonders, can such breakthrough ideas come from?

Fortunately for people in business, corporate innovation does not have to draw upon such raw, unadulterated creativity. In fact, cultivating innovation in your organization can and should be deliberate and process-driven. In the Winter 2011 issue of THINK Magazine, innovation experts Scott D. Anthony, Matt Eyring and Lib Gibson make the case for structuring your organization’s innovation efforts in their article, “Mapping Your Innovation Strategy,” which first appeared in the “Harvard Business Review.”

“By creating a playbook for new growth, using it to identify the best opportunities and investing a little to learn a lot, companies can develop a process that produces high-quality innovations more quickly and with much less up-front investment,” they write.

Using the success of such popular innovations as QuickBooks software and CVS Pharmacy’s MinuteClinics as examples, the authors suggest mining three main areas of opportunity:

  • Where existing products fall short: QuickBooks apparently grew out of Intuit’s observation that users of Quicken were using the personal finance software to keep books for their businesses.
  • Where customers are not being served: Dow Corning augmented its high-end silicone business by creating Xiameter, a distribution channel that serves the commodity silicone market.
  • Where barriers to consumption exist: As any parent with a sick child knows, a visit to the doctor or emergency room can cause nearly as much distress as the ailment itself. Many CVS stores now feature MinuteClinics, staffed by nurses and designed to diagnose and treat a narrow range of common, minor ailments inexpensively and without the lengthy wait.

Instead of thinking way outside the box, the authors urge innovators to think close to home. Likewise, they discourage dwelling on every aspect of development in favor of adopting a process with low-cost or limited rollout and plenty of adaptation and flexibility.

Barriers to creativity are many. Some people doubt their own creativity. Others doubt the value of taking risks. Resources are limited. Mistakes are depressing. But if companies can adopt a systematic, lower-risk approach to developing and launching new ideas, innovation become less off-putting and easier to embrace. Which is still more than we can say about Bjork’s dress.